Ski the French Pyrenees
When you say “skiing in Europe”, most people think the Alps…but there’s a little secret that’s slowly leaking out: the Pyrenees offer great skiing too.
Receiving more snow annually than the Alps, due to their maritime position near the Atlantic coast, the Pyrenean weather conditions are ideal – stable high pressure systems bringing clear blue skies, interspersed with heavy snowstorms to refresh the slopes.
Therefore, the largest Pyrenean resort, Tourmalet (sometimes known by the two villages it encompasses, Bareges-La Mongie) has a long season from the end of November through to the middle of April. There has also been recent heavy investment in snow-making equipment, to guarantee snow for the whole season on the main pistes.
With 70 pistes and 42 ski-lifts, there’s over 100km of on-piste skiing available. The Tourmalet resort is excellent for beginners and intermediate skiers, with gentle nursery slopes and beautiful, wide runs giving access to every area of the resort. The resort has 24 green and 20 blue pistes, making it possible to visit all of the five interconnected ski areas without straying onto anything too challenging. Not forgetting the advanced skiers though, there are 21 red runs, and 5 blacks… and have we talked about off-piste and ski-touring yet?
The Pyrenees are one of the few unbroken mountain chains in Northern Europe. Unlike the Alps or Dolomites, there are very roads few cutting across them. While this is a nuisance for travellers wanting to easily hop between France and Spain, it means you have wild peaks, where bears still roam, wildlife is in abundance and you can truly get lost. For the adventurous and expert skiers, you can try the the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, one of the most celebrated off-piste routes in Europe. Ski-touring is also a dream here. It’s possible to spend a day skiing down virgin snow without seeing any other person and get that “me and the mountains” feeling.
Hurry though. There’s now a revamped ski station at Bareges, including a new ticket office, toilet and cafe area, a new 4-man lift to replace the Coume Lounque button tow above the Col du Tourmalet, three super-fast six man chairs that can whisk you across to La Mongie in no time and rumours about re-opening the funicular that takes you straight from the village of Bareges onto the pistes… this area is starting to buzz. A newly renovated 3 star hotel in Bareges, Hotel Du Tourmalet, due to open Winter 2011, has encouraged the local hoteliers to spruce up their hotels too.
Pyrenean skiing might still be a well-kept secret, but not for much longer.
Many thanks to Kara Stanford from Mountain Bug for the article.
Search for independent ski chalets in the Pyrenees.